OK, if you don’t know what a content loop is, or you have never even heard the expression, then I am about to give you an exciting concept that could explode your customer acquisition model in a way you have not yet imagined. If you get it half right, then you will be amazed at the outcomes. If you actually nail it, then you will have a global business.
Content loops involve publishing and sharing media, which is then shared by the business, its users or partners. That action triggers signups, activations and user engagement, which leads to more sharing of the media. This completes the “loop” or cycle.
There are some great examples of how a content loop has had an incredible impact on the success of several startups. Grubhub created landing pages that organized restaurants into regions and types of cuisine, so users could search for Thai food and come across a curated page of local Thai restaurants in the results. And Pinterest is one of the most notable businesses that was built entirely on a content loop.
In the early days, Pinterest grew on top of Facebook’s Open Graph protocol, meaning that every time users pinned something, the content would be distributed to their Facebook feeds for all of their friends to see.
Pinterest was very much a social network, built around the content that your friends were saving. But by the end of 2013, Facebook changed the rules and removed the default ‘auto-share’ feature, which many apps and third-party sites using Facebook’s login API relied on. Users now had to specifically grant permission for you to distribute their content. The Open Graph opportunity went away overnight, which killed a lot of startups that were leveraging it. Suddenly Pinterest didn’t have a reliable way to attract new users anymore. They had to rethink their growth strategy entirely.
Their team went to work to investigate growth opportunities in SEO to tackle this challenge. By virtue of how the product worked, Pinterest users were already doing some of the legwork. Users were creating boards full of pins and repinning content from other users that was valuable, culling the Internet for the best content across a wide range of topics.
In order to mine this content gold, Pinterest made users’ boards more searchable on Google, identifying the collections that would rank well. They also created new boards by aggregating the “best-of-the-best” pins and repins, making these new creations available to Google searchers as well, which ranked even higher in the eyes of the algorithms. This is what helped form the second arc of the traffic-generating content loop. Google users found these boards and became Pinterest users who created boards of their own. And the virtuous cycle made another revolution, quickly becoming Pinterest’s primary avenue for attracting new users.
Of course, there are limitations to the power of the content model. Neither Pinterest nor Grubhub employees were primarily responsible for driving the content value or volume, as the demand and supply sides of their products took care of it. If you try to create everything yourself, it’s just going to be hard to compete with a company like Pinterest which now has 100 billion pins.
But for Pinterest, the content was just the right mix, and the introduction of this loop unleashed a second wave of growth, which was a much-needed follow-on after the first wave had flattened out following Facebook’s Open Graph platform rules change. The company has since found that this new wave of users still drive significant revenue and have been more active, most likely because they saw the value of Pinterest for discovering content, not just as a platform that has their friends on it.
For the startup seeking to create a content loop, here’s a 5-step process to assess the opportunity and get started:
- Find ways to get content from your users. Content is unsurprisingly the key ingredient of any content loop, so identify the kind of content that will drive your model, and be valuable for users and non-users alike. Ask yourself: ‘Do I have some sort of asset that’s being created that I can lean into? Is there a natural way the product can create this content or not?’ It’s okay if there isn’t content being created today. There’s a lot of low-hanging fruit to go after. You’d be surprised how powerful a simple review is. Or building specific pages for geographic areas. It doesn’t have to be rocket science.
- Give users an incentive (and a mechanism) to share that content. Early on, make the process of sharing content as frictionless as possible. YouTube and Musical.ly are stellar examples of seamless sharing. YouTube allowed users to embed videos on any website or app, driving users to sign up and encourage their friends to follow their content. And after noticing teens filming themselves lip syncing to songs online, Musical.ly made it easier to film and share videos inside and outside of the app. Think about your users and where they’ll be sharing. For example, in different countries it may be WhatsApp, so you have to support that. And if your users aren’t motivated to share, see if you can share it in a way that makes sense. Pinterest distributed popular boards to Google search and Grubhub distributed the information from restaurants to customers.
- Find where your community lives and double down. After putting the content and sharing tools in place, startups need to determine which communities will drive enough viewership of their content and then find a way to maximize them. You’re trying to figure out who the audience is. What is their intent? Where do they live online? If your audience intends to be seen as thought leaders, maybe they’ll go to LinkedIn. If they’re engineers, they may go to Hacker News. For Pinterest, their audience was going to Google, so they built up a team of engineers focused on SEO.
- Trace traffic back to the source to tweak your product. When looking at users streaming in, entrepreneurs should break the traffic down by source to match user intent with the value of the product. If users aren’t converting from a particular source, it may be because they are a bad fit for the product. But with small changes, they may become a good fit. For example, Pinterest initially started bringing in more Google search users, even though they were converting at lower rates. That was because Pinterest’s onboarding flow focused on surfacing content from their friends that were already on the network, which didn’t match up with their intent. If users searched for Chukka boots on Google, landed on a Pinterest board and signed up to see more, their feed focused on content from their Facebook friends. But that typically had nothing to do with Chukka boots — not exactly the ideal experience. So you need to get the context right.
- Convert, activate and add some friction to feed the loop. Converting those who see the content is a huge component of the loop. You need to make it sticky. If people came from Google to Pinterest and didn’t sign up, that’s fine, but at the very least they should leave with a better understanding of how Pinterest can help them in the long run. So experiment with that until you solve it.
Content isn’t just about getting people to your product. You have to stop people from landing and leaving
Just in case you did not realize it, you are in our very own Metigy content loop right now. Metigy Learning, which was conceived to be an educational resource to support and empower our customers, has turned out to be a fantastic content loop bringing thousands of new readers to our ecosystem and gaining momentum constantly. We are passionate about making marketing easy for Novice Marketers and even more exciting for Experienced Marketers, and what a great way of working towards that goal and bringing more interested marketers into our ecosystem while we do it.
Find a passion that compliments your brand, get busy telling your story about it, and make it a content loop that interests others. The rest will follow.